2001-03-27 11:48 a.m.

Alpine and the Big Bend

It is cold and rainy in Austin and I am ready for real spring--not this psuedo-April showers spring we've been suffering through. Sunshine, heat, margaritas on the patio.

We had a wonderful weekend trip to Alpine and the Big Bend. What a beautiful part of the world. So tranquil, so removed, so not-of-the-rest-of-this-busy-world. The trip was too short to really enjoy it but enough to give me a taste of it again. We hadn't been there in four years and we've never been there in the spring (or psuedo-spring) and this is really the time to see the desert.

We left Friday after a long morning visit with my friend Grace (of the much missed graceofgrape.diaryland.com)and the new daughter that we haven't seen yet, since she doesn't arrive to the outside world until August. We did see pictures of her in there posing for the camera and she will be a beauty.

We made a side trip near Blanco to visit my other best-Austin-friend Perfect C. Her mate/boyfriend/irritant was away so we visited with her and looked at the garden and her Lilypad (her only little home away from home). She is my primary gripe-to girl so I knew she was eyeing us for tension in our marriage but it really was a good weekend and free of all that fuss for a short while.

On we went on our lazy trip west. We stopped at the South Llano State Park and saw wild turkeys. I don't believe I've ever seen Wild Turkey (except in a glass). Neat to see and hear. We inquired about former Texas governor Coke Stephenson and his home which we knew was somewhere nearby. The park ranger said that, yes, he had lived further south on the Llano River and said that his wife is still living and still driving and carries Texas Driver's License number 000002 or somesuch! We drove on down to Telegraph to get a look at her place and there we found a big mailbox with "Mrs. C. Stephenson" on the side. An amazing link with history. To us, it was like discovering that Eleanor Roosevelt was still living.

We moved on after that discovery and began making some time since it was already late afternoon and we had hours to go to get to the west. We ate some good Mexican food in Sonora and finally got to Fort Stockton about 11 pm and decided that was a good place to stop. Stayed at a nice Day's Inn with clean sheets and a good TV and breakfast included.

Up early Saturday to head south to Marathon...one of my favorite Texas towns. Cloudy and cold and windy---not the spring weather we wanted. We found lots of new galleries and shops that hadn't been there in 1997. We had a lovely visit with a gallery owner Sue at the Chisos Gallery and found lots of fun things to buy there for us and for gifts. I loved how everyone knew everyone in that town. No one walked down the street without greetings and questions. We met Klemie, a Baltimore transplant to West Texas who said she had had a map of Texas on her wall as a child and later in her cubicle at work. I think people like that belong in Texas more than many natives. I don't begrudge anyone coming to Texas that sees it as a calling. I would like to ship out some natives that don't see this as a special and blessed place. We found a new little bakery and couldn't resist sampling (devouring)apricot fried pies. Good good.

We headed on south out of Marathon for the hour drive to the Big Bend National Park. The kind folks in Marathon had told me that there were no bluebonnets in Marathon because of the elevation but that we would begin to see them in the park. True enough, we got to the welcoming sign for the park and it was surrounded by Big Bend Bluebonnets, a different variety from what we have in the Hill Country (the Texas Bluebonnet---but both, and all bluebonnets, are the state flower). These bluebonnets had the same size flower as our Austin bluebonnets but they were on long tall stalks, two to three foot tall! The plant itself was very low to the ground and the leaves were small and many had more leaflets than Austin area bluebonnets.

We stopped over and over for photos. I hope we get a good Christmas card pic out of the bunch. Our camera and tripod tumbled over in the winds but it appears undamaged. The bluebonnets were stunning, the yuccas and their snowy white blooms were stunning, some prickly pear were blooming, and the desert floor was covered in yellow and purple and white. Amazing color.

We got more sunshine and more warmth as we got down into the park and stopped at Panther Junction. We crossed over and checked out Terlingua and Study Butte in the spring. The biggest change from November and the chili cookoff was the complete lack of drunk frat boys crowding the Study Butte store and the highway. Very nice to be there when all was quiet and peaceful. We bought some books at the Terlingua store and ate at the Study Butte Store.

Heading on toward the north to go to Alpine, our destination for the evening for the gig, we started seeing clouds again and then more clouds and then mist and fog and cold and strong winds. Very wintry and very apt weather for a town called Alpine. We arrived there and found the club Railroad Blues where the band was to play. Mark set up his drums while I slept in the cold car.

We went on to our "hotel" -- the Antelope Lodge. I had found it online and thought it looked cute. It was cute but a little on the skinny side for amenities. A double bed for our two big bodies and the heat took a long LONG time to get the room warmed up.

The Railroad Blues guys had fixed us up with a great dinner at Las Casitas. They sent a blank check with us and we enjoyed a huge meal. There was no choice but to have a huge meal. I ordered $4 quesadillas thinking that that would be a small meal like it would be in Austin but it was two huge tortillas with cheese and chicken and guacamole. Really good food.

The club itself was a neat big place with pool tables in the back, a dance floor and lots of room. It seemed to be the place to be in Alpine and everyone that came in seemed to know everyone else. I watched the dancers that all seemed to two-step or do their own thing. No swing dancers here. I danced a couple of times with older brave men that were curious who this knew younger woman was!

We had talked about taking the band to see the Marfa Lights after the gig but with the clouds and cold we figured they wouldn't be visible so we all went on back to the hotel and slept.

Sunday, Mark and I were up early and on the road home. We had McDonald's for breakfast and drove around the Sul Ross University campus and checked out their big cactus garden.

We took a different route home, in hopes of more sunshine and bluebonnets. We drove down toward the border and ended up in Del Rio. We parked and walked across the bridge into Mexico. I've never walked into Mexico and I've never been in Ciudad Acuna so it was an interesting experience. We had more good Mexican food here (three days--three Mexican food meals) and we shopped. Mark ended up with a leather belt and I got a leather purse. No desire to by any tequila so we didn't stop by the liquor store. Made the long walk back into the U.S. and headed for home.

We did see bluebonnets (the short Austin kind) on the roads that took us north back to Fredericksburg. Very pretty.

Dark by the time we got to Fredericksburg and headed east again toward Austin. One more sidetrip to Luckenbach just to make sure that it was still happily existing. I hadn't been there since we moved to Austin so I needed that "touchstone" again. We have some wonderful memories there--mine going back to 1978.

Finally home late Sunday night. We watched the last of the Academy Awards and went to bed early, happy to be home again.

One of the nicest things about this trip and most of our recent trips is how content I am with living in Austin. All my life and especially since I've lived with Mark I've dreamed of living in a small town or in the country or anywhere but where we lived. It just didn't seem to be "home" in Dallas. Every small town became the object of my dreams and fantasies. Since we've moved to Austin I have found my home. Now I appreciate these small towns and enjoy being there temporarily but don't feel that desire to live there and make it my home. My home is here. Sure, I'd still love to live in a funkier South Austin neighborhood or a rich Mount Bonnell neighborhood or further into the Hill Country someday, but it is no longer a sad longing that won't ever be met, I'm happy where we are.

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